For shows like Sons Of Anarchy, it's all about the pressure. We know our heroes, we know their goals, and, after last week, we have a pretty good idea of what'll be standing in the way of our heroes (or protagonists, if you want to get fancy; fun as it is to spend time with Jax, Clay, Gemma and the rest, this isn't an ensemble dominated by clear consciences) achieving those goals. So now, it comes down to applying the pressure and seeing who cracks first. Tonight's episode, "Booster," got the game started in earnest, and while at least one scene suffered from an exposition-heavy conversation (I'm thinking of Sheriff Roosevelt and DA Potter's chat about Mayor Hale's business interests), this was a step up from last week's already pretty good premiere. This season's stakes, already high to begin with, are getting higher, and SAMCRO is coming face to face with its toughest enemy yet. To make matters worse, the club's internal strife, which has been largely put on the back burner for the last couple of seasons, is heating up again, and there's no easy, nasty bad guy for everyone to team up against.
There was plenty of board-setting last week—Potter moving into Charming with his team on the hunt for the Sons, Roosevelt laying down the law, Clay taking Hale's new business venture personally—but what struck me as most important, at least in terms of the long-term health of this show, was Jax's promise to Tara that he would get her and their sons out of Charming and away from the Sons. When this series started, Jax was a club man, right down the line; then he found his dad's memoirs and started having second thoughts. Until now, those thoughts had always been about trying to wrest control of SAMCRO away from Clay (and Gemma) and turning the Sons back on a more righteous path. But apparently, Jax has given up changing the club; the events of last season have soured him on the Sons and on his father's writing, and now, he just wants to get his family someplace safe. Only, he can't do it right away, you understand. He's not trained for anything, and his ego won't let him take on menial jobs or let Tara provide for him and the boys. So, he tells Tara, he's going to stick around long enough to make one last score.
This sort of conversation isn't new. It's been repeated in various permutations in hundreds of crime dramas and noir thrillers, and it nearly always has the same result: The nearly-reformed criminal will almost just about pull off the greatest caper of his career, only to be thwarted at the last possible second by some twist of fate or betrayal. It's a cliche, nearly as much as "Oh! I can't believe I've been fatally shot, and just two days before I was to retire with my lovely wife and children." is, and, so far at least, Sons hasn't suddenly found some new way to handle Jax's sure to be thwarted dreams. Jax and Tara's chat last week wasn't bad in and of itself. It makes a certain amount of sense that Jax would be at this point in his life, and while he's a smart guy, it's not impossible to believe that he'd be so smart as to not realize how stupid he's being. (Plus, there's the ego again.) Besides, just because I've seen this sort of plan go awry countless times before, that doesn't mean it's completely stupid. It's just, well, Tara bought the pitch hook, line, and sinker, without even mentioning how much it comes off as an addict's plea—I'll go straight, I swear, I've got big plans, I just need one last fix to make everything work out the way I want it. I understand the need to shift Jax's goals, and I appreciate the potential drawbacks in doing so; much of the success of the season to come is going to be in just how Jax ends up changing his mind (and breaking his word). We know there's no way Jax is going to leave the reservation for good. The trick will be finding a way to keep him in town that doesn't feel like a cheat or a cheap reversal.
"Booster" starts the ball rolling on Jax and Clay's exit plans. The Sons got revenge on the Russians last week (which, by the way, doesn't speak too highly of Jax's ability to move on), which was terribly cathartic for them, I'm sure. But it means pissing off some powerful people, and to keep those powerful people from falling down on SAMCRO like a ton of well-armed bricks, the Sons are going to need someone equally powerful to get their backs. Enter Danny Trejo as Romeo Parada, a representative of the Galindo cartel. He's got the muscle and the contacts to keep the Russians at bay, and all he wants in return is to buy guns off the Sons—and use them as cocaine drug mules. It's a lot of money, and that money is crucial to Clay's plans; His hands are getting worse, and, like Jax, he's looking for an exit strategy. Understanding this and knowing that Clay needs his help to convince the club to agree to drug trafficking, Jax leverages the situation into getting a promise from Clay: Once this deal is done, he's leaving, just like Clay is. Which is all well and good, but the club members still have minds of their own, and they're not happy with the risk cocaine brings into their lives. But Jax and Opie get grabbed by the Russians on an ammo run, and Romeo comes to their rescue, a powerful (and for Clay and Jax, awfully convenient) reminder of just how much SAMCRO needs the cartel backing them up.
That's the strongest element of this week's episode, I'd say: the need pressing in on all sides, forcing people to make choices that they know aren't in their best interests. And while this is going on, while the Sons are essentially getting into bed with a force they don't understand and can't control, Sheriff Roosevelt is making sure they realize he's not going to stay quiet if SAMCRO keeps on dropping bodies in town. It's been a while since the show has had an authority figure who wasn't either essentially impotent (the roadkill Hale) or batshit insane (Stahl). It's possible Roosevelt will go down either of those paths, but while his behavior here is above and beyond the usual harassment the club has suffered at the hands of the law in past seasons, he doesn't come across as unhinged or vindictive; this is just someone who understands the importance of territory, both in establishing control and maintaining it. And really, the Sons are back in town less than 24 hours, and they're already dropping bodies? That's some disrespect right there. Deputy Hale and Stahl were disposable (or, in the case of Stahl, downright detrimental) because the show wasn't able to maintain them as credible threats and believable characters. With Roosevelt, it'll be interesting to see if he can remain an effective danger, just as it'll be interesting to see what Linc Potter is planning. Potter is easily my favorite new character of the season so far (he has a motorbike, wears a cool leather jacket, and he's a Deadwood alum? Sweet), but he's still a wild card, more a possibility of things to come than anything concrete.
And then there's Gemma, back to her old crazy plotting. She spends most of "Booster" hunting desperately for the letters Maureen gave Jax, which means we're back to her freaking out over what Jax knows and what he doesn't know. The show has been down this road before, without much result, and while I'm not writing anything off yet, I'm hoping this will head in some direction before too long. Right now, it looks like we may be getting back to Gemma vs. Tara; while Jax has shown little to no interest in figuring out if his father's death really was an accident, Tara appears to be doing some investigating on her own time. I can't imagine Gemma doing anything to seriously hurt Jax, but Tara? Oh sure, they're buddy-buddy now, but Gemma will go to great lengths to protect her family, and Jax (and Gemma's relationship with Jax) will always be more family than Tara. Of course, that sounds like a stretch now, and as cool as the Hamlet connections can be in theory, Gemma and Clay's involvement in J.T.'s death isn't a plot that can really yield anything unless it goes out big. That's another pressure, both for Gemma, and Tara, and the show itself. They've been raising the specter of Jax's dead father for a while now and of Jax making some move that threatens the heart of the club. This season, Kurt Sutter and his writers have to find a way to make those specters flesh or else let them disappear entirely.
- Great to finally see Danny Trejo in Charming. If any actor was destined to do a guest turn on Sons at some point, it's him. Also great to see Benito Martinez (Captain David Aceveda from The Shield) as Trejo's back-up guy.
- Clay, pointing out the obvious in Jax's plan to leave: "What the hell else you gonna do?"
- "Wouldn't want to upset the Prince of Labia."
- "I should've stayed in bed with my wife. The porn star."